Fundamental Job Search Advice

I have read many online comments from frustrated job-seeking applicants. In particular, the complaints seem to focus on certain themes: (1) employers do not “give people without the exact set of skills or background ‘a chance’”; (2) applicants feel like they are communicating with a “void,” with little or no feedback; and (3) employers are “overly critical” when encountering errors in resumes or cover letters.

We recently hired a new teammate for our firm, and I was reminded of a few basic guidelines which may make or break your application:

Write a Cover Letter

The people whom we interviewed wrote a good cover letter. Yes, we read all the cover letters, and compared to the influx of resumes we received, there were not many. We also read all the resumes, but good cover letters helped candidates stand out, persuasively explained why the candidate was interested in the position, and why they believed they would be a good fit. This is especially important for small employers like us who do not use “algorithms” to find good candidates and who are willing to give candidates who have the skills, but not necessarily the experience, a chance.  If your background is “different,” explain why that is a potential strength and how you could be a benefit to the company. If you are seeking to change positions, explain why. We currently hired someone based on their cover letter, as opposed to their resume.

Make Sure your Social media Presence is Harmonious with Your Resume and Cover Letter

Credentials posted on the internet should be accurate and should reflect what your resume and cover letter indicate. Many candidates had conflicting credentials and we did not pursue those applications. Of course, the credentials on both your resume and on social media should honestly reflect your background.

Respond Promptly to Follow-up Inquiries

There were candidates in whom we had expressed interest, who did not promptly send requested follow-up materials—whether it be documentation, writing samples, references or other background information. Candidates who progressed through the process promptly responded to such inquiries, showing a real interest in the position and in us. It was easy to work with them and obtain the requested information. If a candidate does not send materials promptly when trying to secure the job, how responsive will they be when they need to deliver at work?

Communications Should Represent Your Best Self

Oftentimes we reached out to applicants we were considering to ask clarifying questions about their background or interest. Candidates who progressed responded promptly and professionally. Candidates who sent us clearly rushed email responses with poor grammar, spelling, or very informal tones (in other words, emails that would reflect badly on the firm if they joined us and communicated that way) did not progress through the rounds. We gave priority to email responses that were respectful, clear, and with no mistakes. While I have read many complaints that prospective employers are “unfair” when not being forgiving of typos, the flip side is employers believe it is fair to give priority to employees who can communicate effectively, clearly, and correctly (especially if that is a part of the job for which they are applying). When corresponding with a prospective employer, give that employer a taste of how it will be like if they permitted you to communicate with their clients, customers and internal stake holders.


If actively interviewing, you should already have references handy and should know beforehand what they are going to say about you. While this might seem obvious, we have reached out to references who did not support the candidate’s application or who provided information that conflicted with what the candidate provided during the interview process. Share with your references (1) that you are providing them as references; (2) the position you are applying for; and (3) why you believe you would succeed in that position. Make sure to ask your references if they agree with you on the last item. It is okay to ask references what they feel comfortable telling prospective employers about you.

Ask for Feedback

It has been our practice to give feedback to applicants about their application, especially those whom we invited for interviews. It is okay to ask a prospective employer “what should I be doing differently to secure this type of position at a firm like yours?” The worst that would happen is the employer will ignore your question—but, at best, you will receive information that will be helpful in your search. Surprisingly, some candidates we declined did not take us up on our offer to provide feedback on the process from our perspective—an opportunity which we feel should be taken advantage of when given.

Manners Count

We invest a lot of time in our search process and agonize over whom would be the best fit. We work hard to give non-traditional applicants a chance at the position. A thank you email from a candidate is always appreciated and provides yet another opportunity for an employer to interact with you as a human being and as a professional. It is also an opportunity to show off your good manners and to make a prospective employer feel good– who doesn’t like being thanked for their time?


Not everything about the job-search process is in your control. The items mentioned above, are.

Our new teammate hit all of these out of the park—she did not have the typical background one would normally consider for the position, and was hired based on her cover letter and professional follow-up communications. We used her resume as a conversation piece during the interview, and not as a center piece. And she is fitting in great, as we knew she would.